Not So Happy With the State of the World? You Can Change Things for the Better—Here’s Where to Start


Imagine if we all decided to change our little corner of the world for the better in any way we could, with even the simplest gestures. I wonder what it would look like?

I’ve always been a sit-in-the-front-of-the-classroom type person, eager to raise my hand and take a shot at the answers. I also have little patience for people who sit around and make suggestions but who don’t step up and make a decision.

So, true to the little girl in me—the one always eager to take the road less traveled who grew into the woman eager to blaze a trail—it was time to step up, make a decision, and see if I had the answer to this question: What would the world look like if I focused simply on my little corner of it?

At the time, I wasn’t happy with the state of the world. But instead of giving in to the despair I was feeling, I decided to change my perspective. I would re-set my filter so that I didn’t focus on the darkness, but rather the wonderful things that light our way.

Using inspirational quotes to illuminate the path of positivity I was determined to stay on, I decided to build a lighthouse of sorts—literally on my corner of my own neighborhood—for others to find their way to the hopeful, inspirational Open Field.

I wish you could see how this project lit everyone up. I was so inspired, I continued to post these inspirational signs a few times a week—and I’m going on two years. It turns out sharing hope, kindness, positivity, and love for each other has been like a boomerang, circling around and finding its way back to me.

Now, I want to build a bigger lighthouse. I want us all to work on improving our little corners of the world. Like my friend, Maria, I want to stand on my platform and share the beauty of the Open Field I’m seeing up ahead, inviting everyone along as we collectively forge a path through the ugly thicket to a beautiful place beyond judgement, labels and political parties.

I believe all great ideas start small and grow bigger. Like the ripples you see after throwing a rock in a pond, everyone has the ability to make positivity contagious—starting in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities. If you don’t know where to start, here are five easy ways to be a good neighbor:

1. Deliver holiday treats. Around Thanksgiving, I make cookies using fruit from the persimmon tree in my backyard and share them with neighbors. We first introduced ourselves 20 years ago to the neighbors on our street with homemade Christmas cookies. It’s now become an annual tradition and a good excuse to check in with neighbors I might not interact with otherwise. Soon, they started reciprocating with thoughtful offerings, some from their own cultural traditions, with one neighbor gifting back an angel ornament every year, creating a collection my family will treasure forever.

Baking not your thing? Not at a lot of time? Seasonal treats like apple cider, pumpkin pie or apple donuts can be picked up at the grocery store and delivered.

2. Take care of an elderly neighbor’s garbage cans, yard, or pet. Notice that a neighbor is slowing down or you haven’t seen them out in a while? Check in. See how they are doing. Offer to do things for them that have become hard to do, like bringing their garbage cans to and from the curb, trimming their roses, or walking their dog.

When my neighbor, Dr. Cook, noticed that Mr. Burns—our normally active but elderly neighbor caring for his sick wife—hadn’t put his garbage cans to the curb as usual on garbage day, Dr. Cook didn’t even ask if he could help. He just started pulling out Mr. Burns’ cans when he did his own. Every morning, my husband swings by his elderly mother’s home on his way to work and puts her newspaper on her door handle so she doesn’t have to bend over for it and risk falling. These are small gestures, but they offer maximum caring and kindness.

3. Be a positive porch pirate and leave anonymous gifts. ‘Tis the season for holiday shopping and packages arriving on the front porch—and unfortunately, porch pirates. Everyone is on alert for stolen packages, but what about opening your door to a surprise just-because little token? How wonderful would it be to go from being “on guard” to being pleasantly surprised? And what a great feeling you’ll have to make it happen for someone.

Some families in our neighborhood started already this year. A doorbell would ring and we would find ourselves “Booed” with an anonymous gift of Halloween treats and a tag-you’re-it invitation to keep the fun going. Later, adults “Beered” each other throughout the year so the kids didn’t have all the fun. Occasionally, I’ll open our front door and find fruits or vegetables from someone’s garden waiting on the porch. And remember, your generosity doesn’t have to be acknowledged. Really, the gift is yours knowing you likely brought a smile to someone’s face and made them feel special.

4. Share your bounty. Here in California, the persimmons are ripening and the citrus fruit is weighing down the branches in our backyard right now. Bounties are meant to be shared. Why not start with your neighbors? It’s a good excuse to knock on someone’s door to check in or be a positive porch pirate.

But it doesn’t have to be your garden extras. Let’s say you bought too many paper towels or cans of beans than you really need. Why not share your extras with a neighbor and save them a trip? Or, if you have some leftover goodies from that dinner party you hosted, see if a neighbor would like a treat. And if you don’t want them to lock their door when they see you coming with another zucchini from your garden, maybe offer zucchini bread instead!

5. Invite a neighbor to walk and talk. Many of us only know our neighbors with a passing wave or a brief “hello” or “how are you?” But these are the people who are literally closest to you! Isn’t it sad to think that any of us could spend decades sharing close proximity with our neighbors but never really knowing them? At best, it’s a missed opportunity to know someone really special. At worst, animosity grows when we feel unknown or misunderstood.

Why not invite a neighbor to go for a walk and spend some healthy time outdoors getting to know each other? I automatically think to invite a friend when I walk my dog, using it as an excuse to catch up. I think next time I’ll try a neighbor. I wish I had done that with Mr. Burns. Sure, we stopped and talked over the years in our driveways and when delivering cookies, asking about the kids, plans for the holidays, light banter like that. But he recently passed away, and after reading his obituary and watching a 30-minute tribute video, I sure wish I had really talked to this amazing, inspiring man. It may be too late to get to know Mr. Burns, but it’s not too late to make an effort with the others in my little corner of the world.

No more missed opportunities. Now that’s a great idea for changing our corners of the world for the better.


Kelli Wheeler is an author, family columnist, writing instructor and recent Empty Nester. For more information visit

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